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Scot Wilcox

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Do right and wrong exist?

I'm curious about objective right and wrong. If you believe in God, this is a no-brainer. Some things are wrong, some things are right, simply because God says so and He knows. But if you don't believe in God, can you still believe in objective morality? I personally don't think you can. I mean, what do you base it off of? How do you find out what's objectively right or wrong? (By objective I mean "existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality." from dictionary.com)
Sure, there's subjective morality. Any idea of right or wrong come up with by a human is by definition subjective. That's all well and good. Problem is that it only applies to people who believe in it and it gives them no authority to proclaim anything as "what we should be doing." Very often everybody disagrees with each other and we don't get anywhere. (Just look at Congress for an example of this.)
Maybe you disagree with me and you think there is objective morality but no God. That's fine. I would like to ask you to answer a question for me though. Let's pick an easy one. Why is rape objectively wrong? Don't misunderstand me, I can't think of a single instance where rape wouldn't be wrong. I believe very strongly that sexual abuse is one of the greatest evils in the world. Why is it evil? If you can answer me without using a God-based or subjective argument, I'll concede the point.
That point is this: Without God, there is no such thing as right and wrong, only the things we call right and wrong. And since nobody can agree on what to call what, we're all in a lot of trouble.

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  • Feb 20 2013: I think when you say believing in god makes it a no brainier, you are assuming everyone is Christian & forgetting that there are many gods and many varied beliefs. So though I'm sure one could point to similarities & argue the same morals exist between them, one can also point out some pretty big differences. Now you have a real question on what is right or wrong on the religious front too.

    From a purely scientific/psychological(?) point of view, I've recently heard a few ideas on morality, the origin of religion... & following, perhaps how we get right & wrong. I would like to point out the 2nd part of derren browns 2-part tv series 'fear & faith'. In this he performs a series of experiments. One experiment was performed on two seperate groups of people & secretly filmed. They gave the individuals in each group a game to play, then left them on their own to honestly tally up the number of mistakes they made while playing. In the first group, all but one lied about how many mistakes they made. In the other group, everyone told the truth. Why the difference? Well as the rules were explained to the 2nd group, derren asked that no one sit on an old chair seated in the corner of the room, explaining it was an antique chair rumoured to be possessed by ghosts. Even though most of the subjects didn't consider themselves superstitious, derrens experiment seems to show that we are 'hard wired' to believe & that the suggestion of a presence in the room was enough to stop cheating.

    Derren goes on to hypothesis that we are all hard wired this way. That belief in a presence was part of our evolution. That it gave us morals. Those who didn't 'believe' were less successful in a group & therefore less likely to breed. Right & wrong is simply what helps us to get along with other humans... An essential step in evolution.
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        Feb 23 2013: Sounds like you think the options are either a creator god or goddess defining what is right and wrong, or we might as well give up and accept any type of behaviour.

        Suggest that is probably wrong on both counts.

        First why assume the rules of a creator god or goddess are the appropriate framework to use for moral decisions? You have to make all sort of unfounded assumptions to get close to this making sense and even then the position is questionable.

        Second, while there is perhaps no absolute morality, perhaps there are some moral frameworks that improve the condition of conscious beings, that reduce suffering more than others.

        Personally I find it worth fighting for the values I think improve our lives such as opposing racism, sexism, homophobia and supporting various rights and freedoms within limits etc and are willing to debate other values such as those that think it is moral to cut their children's genitals for some religious reason, or not give gay people or different races equal rights.

        Life may not come with easy answers although religions sometimes try and pretend there are. But we have thousands of years of philosophy, hundreds of science, and better access to information and forums such as TED than ever before. It's not easy but we are not starting from zero.

        While not absolute, I suggest there are sound arguments for not raping and killing without good reason, for supporting freedom of speech and religion (both within limits) and for doing away with monarchies etc.

        It's not a choice between the bogus rules of some divine dictator or anything goes. False dichotomy Mark. Such a binary view I see threaded through a lot of religious positions. If there is no absolute we can still meaning in our lives and strive for improvement in ethics etc.
      • Feb 23 2013: "it's obvious that people see only what they want to see anyway."

        There are always some people who want to see new ideas or be reminded of ones they haven't thought of for awhile. Then they see something they didn't expect to but are glad to have at hand. I see things almost daily that I didn't want to see. But to turn away is to deny truth. To love truth, to follow the ideal of loving truth, means we have to look things square in the face, whether we like them or not. Then we can move forward. Please don't give up on people (or truth, for that matter :)).

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